The 2020 general election results are in, and we are excited to report on the changes in the General Assembly.
Before we get to the details of the election, NC NORML is happy to report – a bit of good news! The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which is chaired by Attorney General Josh Stein and Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, recommended legislation to:
- Decriminalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by making it a civil offense – (currently punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a $200 fine)
- Expunge past convictions
- Study the prospect of legalizing the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana
The Task Force completed their work before the December 1st deadline they had set, and will be submitting these and other recommendations to Governor Cooper on December 15th. These recommendations were supported by 80% of the members of the Task Force composed of law enforcement and justice systems professionals. It will take bipartisan support from legislators for the recommendations to become law.
The majority of incumbent NC legislators ran for re-election and won handily. In districts where incumbents decided not to run again, or opted to run for other offices, their seats were generally filled by members of their own party. In the 2021 – 2022 legislative session, there will be 68 Republicans, 52 Democrats in the House; and 28 Republicans, 22 Democrats in the Senate. The Democrats lost 5 seats in the House and gained 1 in the Senate. Republicans have retained control of both chambers.
Republicans are more socially and fiscally conservative, so our challenge is to convince them that personal liberty, increases in revenue, and savings in expenditures are reasons to change the law. NC NORML’s strategy is to thread the needle between the two world views of rural (liberty, fiscal conservatism, small government) and urban (science, justice) North Carolinians to inform legislators about the benefits of legalization. Check out our the fact sheets for messaging examples: https://www.ncnorml.org/fact-sheets/
Many legislators from both parties have not taken a position. We must have bipartisan support to get a bill passed. Since Republicans retained control of both houses, it’s up to us to make the case to Republicans. To make this happen, every cannabis supporter must become an engaged advocate. If you know your legislator’s position please fill out our form to allow us to track their positions and inform our strategy: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/constituent-feedback
Polls have consistently shown that a majority of North Carolinians support the idea of a medical marijuana program (MMJ) and a smaller percent support recreational marijuana (adult-use). A 2017 Elon poll showed that 80% of North Carolinians supported medical marijuana and 45% supported legalizing adult use. A Fox8/Emerson poll conducted in 2020 showed 72.5% support medical marijuana and 48.1% support legalizing adult use.
The Elon poll: https://www.elon.edu/u/elon-poll/archive/2017-05-02/
Despite the widespread support for MMJ and increasing support for legalization, reform of North Carolina’s marijuana laws does not seem to be a major factor in how North Carolinians vote. Voters are more likely to consider experience (incumbency), party affiliation, local/other state issues, and adherence to party values as more important factors.
Outcome of NCGA House Races:
Every sponsor/co-sponsor of MMJ or decriminalization bills (and many who openly supported MMJ or decriminalization) who ran for re-election won:
- Representative Howard J. Hunter, III (D) – District 005: Hertford. 4 MMJ bills and 1 decriminalization bill; Hunter also responded to both of NC NORML’s Candidate Questionnaires and indicated he would consider cosponsoring an adult use legalization bill. Hunter will be returning for a fourth term.
- Representative Kandie D. Smith (D) – District 008: Pitt. Cannabis Caucus member. Smith will return for a second term.
- Representative Allison Dahle (D) – District 011: Wake. Cannabis Caucus member; 2 MMJ bills and 1 decriminalization bill. Dahle spoke at NC NORML’s Cannabis Candidate Conversation in support of legalization of medical and adult-use cannabis and responded to both of NC NORML’s candidate questionnaires. Dahle will return for a second term. NOTE: Her opponents Clark Pope (R) and Adrian Travers (L) also spoke in support of MMJ, decriminalization and adult use legalization.
- Representative Deb Butler (D) – District 018: New Hanover. Cannabis Caucus member; 1 MMJ bill. Butler will return for a second full term (she was appointed to fill the seat before winning it in 2019).
- Representative Raymond Smith, Jr. (D) – District 021: Sampson, Wayne. Cannabis Caucus member; 2 MMJ bills and 1 decriminalization bill. Smith will return for a second term. NOTE: His opponent Brent Heath also supported MMJ.
- Representative Marcia Morey (D) – District 030: Durham. 1 MMJ bill. Morey will return for a second full term (she was appointed to fill the seat before winning it in 2019).
- Representative Zack Hawkins (D) – District 031: Durham. 2 MMJ bills and 1 decriminalization bill. Hawkins will return for a second term. NOTE: his opponent Sean Haugh (L) has been a long-time advocate for legalization.
- Rosa U. Gill (D) – District 033: Wake. 1 decriminalization bill. Gill has also indicated that she supports MMJ. Gill will return for a sixth full term.
- Verla Insko (D) – District 056: Orange. 1 decriminalization bill and a legislative research bill. Insko ran unopposed, and will return for a twelfth term.
- Ashton Wheeler Clemmons (D) – District 057: Guilford. At an event held by NC Women for Cannabis in 2020, Clemmons stated that she is in full support of medical cannabis. Clemmons will return for a second term. NOTE: Her opponent Chris Meadows (R) attended NC NORML’s Cannabis Candidate Conversation and spoke in support of legalization of medical and adult-use cannabis. However, his response to the 2020 NC Family Policy Council’s question “Should North Carolina legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes?” was UNDECIDED
- Cecil Brockman (D) – District 060: Guilford. 1 decriminalization bill. Brockman will return for a fourth term.
- Pricey Harrison (D) – District 061: Guilford. Cannabis Caucus member, 9 medical marijuana bills, 2 decriminalization bills, one legislative study bill, and 2 hemp extract bills. Harrison ran unopposed, and will return for a ninth term.
- Jerry Carter (R) – District 065: Rockingham. Carter was an original Cannabis Caucus member, however his response to NC Family Policy Council’s question, “Should NC legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes?” was NO. Carter will return for a second term.
- Evelyn Terry (D) – District 071: Forsyth. 1 MMJ bill. Terry ran unopposed, and will return for a fifth term.
- Mary Belk (D) – District 088: Mecklenburg. Cannabis Caucus member; 3 MMJ bills. Belk responded to NC NORML’s Primary Candidate Questionnaire and indicated that she also supports decriminalization. Belk will return for a third term.
- Nasif Majid (D) – District 099: Mecklenburg. 1 MMJ bill and 1 decriminalization bill; Majid has also indicated his support for adult use legalization in a radio interview. Majid will return for a second term.
- John Autry (D) – District 100: Mecklenburg. Cannabis Caucus member; 3 MMJ bills and 2 decriminalization bills. Autry has also indicated support for adult use legalization. Autry will return for a third term. NOTE: His opponent Kalle Thompson (R) also supported MMJ, decriminalization, and adult use legalization.
- Carolyn Logan (D) – District 101: Mecklenburg. 1 MMJ bill and 1 decriminalization bill. Logan will return for a second term.
- Becky Carney (D) – District 102: Mecklenburg. 3 medical marijuana bills, 1 legislative study bill, and 2 hemp extract bills. Carney will return for a tenth term. NOTE: Her opponent Kyle Kirby (R) supported MMJ, decriminalization and adult use legalization.
- Carla Cunningham (D) – District 106: Mecklenburg. 4 MMJ bills, 2 decriminalization bills and 1 hemp extract bill. Cunningham ran unopposed and will return for a fifth term.
- Kelly M. Alexander, Jr. (D) – District 107: Mecklenburg. Cannabis Caucus founder, 9 medical marijuana bills, 3 decriminalization bills, one legislative study bill, and 2 hemp extract bills. He has indicated support for adult use legalization. In 2018 he formed North Carolina’s Cannabis Caucus. Alexander will return for a seventh full term. NOTE: His opponent Richard Rivette (R) also supported MMJ, decriminalization, and adult use legalization.
- Susan C. Fisher (D) – District 114: Buncombe. 8 MMJ bills, two decriminalization bills, and 1 hemp extract bill. Fisher will return for a ninth full term.
- John Ager (D) – District 115: Buncombe. 5 MMJ bills and 2 decriminalization bills. Ager will return for a fourth term.
- Brian Turner (D) – District 116: Buncombe. 2 MMJ bills and 1 hemp agriculture bill. Turner will return for a fourth term.
Due to redistricting, the Democrats lost Sydney Batch – District 037; Scott Brewer – District 066; C. Ray Russell – District 093; Christy Clark – District 098; and Joe Sam Queen – District 119.
New Democratic House members: Brian Farkas – District 009: Pitt (defeated incumbent Perrin Jones-R; Farkas took a strong stance in support of decriminalization and legalization in a debate with his primary opponent); Abe Jones – District 038: Wake (replaces incumbent Yvonne Lewis Holley-D, see below); Ricky Hurtado – District 063: Alamance (defeated Stephen M. Ross (R); will be NC’s first Latino legislator); Amber M. Baker – District 072: Forsyth (replaces Derwin Montgomery, see below); Terry Brown – District 092: Mecklenburg (replaces Chaz Beasley who opted to run for Lieutenant Governor in the primary).
New Republican House members: Charles Miller – District 019: Brunswick, New Hanover (replaces incumbent Ted Davis, Jr-R who opted not to run again); Erin Pare – District 037: Wake (defeated incumbent Sydney Batch-D; Pare supports LIMITED MMJ); Ben Moss – District 066: Montgomery, Richmond, Stanly (defeated incumbent Scott Brewer-D, Moss supports MMJ), David Willis – District 068: Union (replaces incumbent D. Craig Horn-R who opted to run for Superintendent of Public Instruction; Willis is undecided); Jeff Zenger – District 074: Forsyth (replaces incumbent Wes Schollander-R who opted not to run for re-election); Sam Watford – District 080: Davidson (replaces incumbent Steve Jarvis-R who ran for NC Senate District 29); Dudley Greene – District 085: McDowell (replaces incumbent Josh Dobson-R who opted to run for Commissioner of Labor); Ray Pickett – District 093: Watauga (defeated incumbent Ray Russell-D); Grey Mills – District 095: Iredell (replaces incumbent John Fraley-R who opted not to run for re-election), John R. Bradford, III – District 098: Mecklenburg (defeated incumbent Christy Clark-D; Bradford has said in the past that he is in favor of MMJ); Mark Pless – District 118:Haywood (replaces incumbent Michele Presnell-R who opted not to run for re-election); Mike Clampitt – District 119: Swain (defeated incumbent Joe Sam Queen-D).
Unfortunately, two House supporters who opted to run for higher office lost those races. Representative Yvonne Lewis Holley (D) – District 038 (4 MMJ bills, 2 decriminalization bills and 2 hemp extract bills) lost her race for Lieutenant Governor to Mark Robinson (R). Derwin Montgomery (D) – District 072 (H1134 2020’s MMJ bill) opted to run for NC’s Congressional District 6, and lost in the March primary to Kathy Manning.
Outcome of NCGA Senate Races:
These supporters of MMJ and/or decriminalization will be returning to the Senate
- Milton F. (Toby) Fitch, Jr. (D) – District 4: Edgecombe, Halifax, Wilson. Cannabis Caucus member; 2 decriminalization bills. Fitch will return for a second full term (he previously served 8+ terms in the house).
- Jay J. Chaudhuri – District 15: Wake. 1 decriminalization bill. Chauduri will return for a third full term. NOTE: his opponent Mario J. Lomuscio (R) supported decriminalization, MMJ and legalization.
- Wiley Nickel (D) – District 16: Wake. 1 decriminalization bill. Nickel will return for a second term. NOTE: his opponent Will Marsh (R) was an outspoken supporter of decriminalization, MMJ and legalization.
- Valerie P. Foushee (D) – District 32: Chatham, Orange. 1 MMJ bill and 1 decriminalization bill. Foushee will return for a fourth full term.
- Paul A. Lowe, Jr. (D) – District 32: Forsyth. 2 decriminalization bills. Lowe will return for a third full term.
- Mujtaba A. Mohammed (D) – District 38: Mecklenburg. 1 decriminalization bill. Mohammed was a member of Governor Cooper’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and was a proponent of legalization in his working group. He will return for a second term. NOTE: his opponent Jack W. Brosch (R) supported MMJ.
- Joyce Waddell (D) – District 40: Mecklenburg. 2 decriminalization bills, 1 MMJ bill, and 2 hemp agriculture bills. Waddell also supports adult use legalization. She will return for a fourth term.
- Natasha R. Marcus (D) – District 41: Mecklenburg. 1 decriminalization bill and 1 hemp extract bill. Marcus will return for a second term.
Senator Erica Smith (D) – District 3: Beaufort, Bertie, Martin, Northampton, Vance, Warren; 1 MMJ bill; opted to run for US Senate in the March primary. Ernestine (Byrd) Bazemore (D) will replace her.
Senator Terry Van Duyn (D) – District 49: Buncombe; 1 MMJ bill and 1 hemp extract bill; opted to run for Lieutenant Governor in the March 2020 Primary. She will be replaced by Julie Mayfield who responded to NC NORML that she supports MMJ, decriminalization, and adult use legalization.
Sarah Crawford (D) picked up District 18 (Franklin, Wake) due to redistricting. She has not taken a position on MMJ, decriminalization or adult use legalization.
New Republican Senators include Michael A. Lazzara – District 6: Jones, Onslow (replaces incumbent Harry Brown-R who opted not to run for re-election); Michael Lee – District 9: New Hanover (replaces incumbent Harper Peterson-D); Lisa Stone Barnes – District 11: Johnston,Nash (Barnes was in the House for 1 term); Amy S. Galey – District 24: Alamance, Guilford (replaces incumbent Rick Gunn who opted not to run for re-election); Steve Jarvis – District 29: Davidson, Montgomery (Jarvis defeated incumbent Eddie Gallimore-R in the March 2020 primary; Jarvis is undecided on MMJ); Kevin Corbin – District 50: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain (replaces incumbent Jim Davis-R).
Based on the number of younger, urban Republicans who were willing to take a position on MMJ, decriminalization, and/or adult use legalization during the General Election, it is possible that future Republican legislators will be more open to changing the state’s archaic laws. Our NC NORML Smoke the Vote specialist recently spoke with Representative Kelly M. Alexander, Jr., the founder of NC’s Cannabis Caucus – Alexander believes the Caucus will grow in the next session, and he hopes to add more Republicans to the Caucus as well.
Other races with potential to impact cannabis legalization in NC:
Roy Cooper (D) defeated Dan Forest (R) and will serve a second term as Governor. When he was asked about decriminalization or legalization, Cooper expressed the desire “to move slowly and study the impact in states that have legalized it.” (10/31/16) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/roy-cooper-vs-pat-mccrory-nonpartisan-candidate-guide_us_5809545ae4b0f8715789f82d
While Cooper’s response is not overwhelmingly supportive of potential change, Dan Forest was even less supportive. In response to an NC Values Coalition Questionnaire: I support the legalization of recreational marijuana? Forest answered Strongly Disagree.
In response to 2020 NC Family Policy Council’s question “Should North Carolina legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes?” Forest answered NO
The Lieutenant Governor chairs the Senate and if we prevail to get a vote in the Senate it would be better to have a cannabis supporter chairing the debate. Unfortunately Lt. Governor-Elect Robinson gave contradictory responses with respect to adult use legalization. His response to the 2020 NC Family Policy Council’s question “Should North Carolina legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes?” was NO.
Attorney General Josh Stein (D) who supports decriminalization and more medical study of cannabis defeated Jim O’Neill (R) who gave inconsistent answers to questions regarding cannabis.
Cannabis supporter Jenna Wadsworth lost her run against Secretary of Agriculture Steve Troxler. Troxler’s response to the NC Family Policy Council’s 2020 question “Should North Carolina legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes?” was NO
Since thirty-five states and the District of Columbus have legalized medical cannabis, and 15 states have legalized adult ise, NC has become more of an outlier, a fact which could put a little pressure on legislators. NC doesn’t have the benefit of a voter referendum so the only path to legalization is convincing legislators to pass a law. NC NORML has been working with legislators of both parties and we’re beginning to see results as the new general assembly will have more Republicans as well as Democrats who support medical cannabis.
In summary, to get cannabis legalized in NC every supporter must talk to their elected officials consistently. NC NORML has a growing group of advocates who have been through our Effective Advocacy course and are getting comfortable with contacting their lawmakers. If you would like to learn the secrets of effective lobbying, please sign up for one of our next sessions.